Thursday, November 12, 2015

Irrational fear and a cold Diet Coke

I haven't been able to breathe today. Hmm, I'll back it up a bit...

To talk publicly about health issues is pretty much the norm, right?, and people seem to come out in support and sympathy. Unless it is mental health...then it's over-sharing and attention-seeking.
So here I go sharing too much:

The phrase "anxiety attack" is thrown around incredibly freely, to the point that it loses the power of expressing the actual terror behind it. Absolutely losing the control between mind and body. It is a terrifying experience at times. In my mind there is some sort of cartoon moment where the character needs to escape (oncoming train, what have you), and their feet have been glued in place. That sheer panic on the character's face as they flail, trying to get away, but not making any headway. This is the only way I can explain having an anxiety attack

I deal with anxiety. In the past decade I wouldn't always say I suffer from anxiety. Frankly, it is almost nice to have an excuse for why I don't do things I wouldn't want to do anyway, even if it didn't increase anxiety, haha. But the past few months it has gotten a lot worse.
I have triggers I am aware of: being in public in general, walking where people can see me (crossing parking lots), answering questions, making phone calls, being put into the spotlight unexpectedly, making small talk. Each one puts me on edge.

I could hardly function as a normal member of society back in the late 90s/early 2000s, but a couple rounds of Prozac helped me leave the house without another person. (Here's the thing about the meds: it took the edge off the symptoms so I could work through the thoughts, which was amazing, and I'm not sure who/what I'd be now if not for the medication. However it kind of deadened me...instead of being in a tornado of emotion, I was watching the tornado from a window. It was still there, just felt different.)
Since becoming a stylist, I have been able to work with the public everyday, with the very rare moment of chest-tightening anxiety. Until a couple of months ago.

Imma let you finish, but Beyoncé had one of the best videos of all time.

Wait, I mean... I'm gonna finish, but the thing that drives me absolutely bonkers is if I happen to divulge (that isn't the word I'm looking for, but my brain won't accept any other word as correct) to someone that I'm having a moment of extreme anxiety and need to stop and breathe for a few minutes, then the person asks "What scares you?" or "What are you so worried about?"

Uggggggggggghh. I hate this question so, so much. People? Can people be my answer? It usually gets the retort of "You are NOT afraid of people!" No, I'm not. I'm not afraid of anything in particular, it's not about rational fear. Society has been able to wise up to not ask someone suffering from depression, "Why are you sad? What do you have to be sad about?" And yet they just can not quite grasp how futile it is to ask someone in the grasps of a panic/anxiety attack what they are afraid of. A chemical imbalance?

So no, I am not afraid of people. However some social situations can lead to heightened levels of anxiety. If that is too vague, let me try to describe what anxiety feels like to me:
That unease between hiccups? First-date jitters? Missing the last step on a staircase? Narrowly avoiding a car collision? Ok, take that rush of adrenaline and add a cold (or sometimes hot) tingling of limbs, legs that are simultaneously lead and Jell-O, shaking, dry mouth, jumbled thoughts, headache, nausea/stomach cramps, racing heartbeat with heart palpitations. Throw in a general sense of foreboding. On top of all that? The inability to breathe. Usually a tightening, like someone is sitting on your chest, squeezing you tight. Fight or flight response. The need to immediately get out of the situation, but almost total immobility. Oh, and the sudden free-flowing tears.
Got that? Great. Now let that feeling last anywhere from three minutes to THE ENTIRE DAY. That is what it is like to be me.

But the scariest thing is they can happen with absolutely no warning. It isn't always one of the documented trigger situations. It can be bubbling under the surface all day, like today. I haven't been able to breathe all day. I've felt sick to my stomach absolutely all day. Twice today it turned into the lead-leg, flowing tears. All day long I've had the shaky adrenaline rush, as if I swerved my car at the last moment, avoiding a collision. Completely uncomfortable absolutely all day.

I have been avoiding caffeine for a few days at a time, to see if that has an effect. But I've found one thing that helps me cope is focusing on sipping a cold Diet Coke and deep breaths.

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